“In the Philippines I saw little children of no more than five working in a trash dump. This made me realize there is another world I don’t know about and it filled me with anger and sadness.” When Haruka Higuchi was a sophomore in high school, she was astonished by the harsh reality she witnessed when she traveled outside Japan. In August 2020, she started a student organization called BohNo that uses food to teach children about social issues while also aiming to reduce food loss. Higuchi says she “wants to give children the opportunity to learn, regardless of how much money they have.”
We sat down with her to ask about her organization's activities and her hopes for the future.
Learning outside Japan changed my values
Higuchi has been interested in poverty issues and educational support since she was in high school, and after entering university, she visited Laos, Thailand and other countries to learn about children's education around the world. “Thanks to my classes and other university programs, I have been able to travel all over the world. Seeing things with my own eyes and gaining first-hand experiences has changed my values. However, when I was in my second year of university, a question suddenly occurred to me: ‘Are Japanese children being given the opportunity to learn about the world?’” explained Higuchi. She continued: “Given that there are children who cannot receive a satisfactory education for some reason or another, I decided that I wanted to share my experiences with as many children as possible.”
Higuchi also had an interest in the issue of food loss in Japan. Having seen countries suffering from food shortages and poverty, this was one of the social issues she was sincerely concerned about. In January 2020, she conceived a plan for children to learn about the world while contributing to the reduction of food loss and proposed it at the Kansai SDGs Youth Idea Contest. Her idea was selected as a winner of the Company Award, which was given to only seven out of 285 proposals. She established BohNo to give shape to her idea, and the group was launched with the support of companies and NPOs in Osaka Prefecture and the Yodogawa Ward Social Welfare Council.
BohNo Cafe: Learning about the world through food
At the BohNo Cafe workshops, which are held every two months, one country is chosen as the theme for each project, and lunch boxes featuring the home cooking of that country are prepared and served to children at children's cafeterias*. The children learn about the food, customs, and problems of the country while enjoying the lunch boxes. "Food is an essential part of life. I thought that by using delicious home-cooked food from different countries as a starting point, children would be able to learn about social issues from around the world while having a fun time,” explained Higuchi. The lunchboxes use non-standard vegetables and other ingredients that were slated to be thrown away due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "The vegetables that are sold in stores and those that are thrown away because they do not meet the specifications taste the same. I want to communicate to the children that eating these foods can help reduce food loss," said Higuchi passionately.
* Community venues where NPOs and local residents take the initiative in providing free or low-cost meals to local children and their parents.
The first Philippines-themed event that was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic was held online in February 2021. Twenty children from all over Japan participated in the event and gained a deeper understanding about poverty in the Philippines and food loss in Japan. In April, the second event was held in person and dealt with Korea. Higuchi’s organization was finally seeing its desire to help children learn through first-hand experience take shape. "The children who participated in the program said felt sorry for the vegetables that had been sold as ‘imperfect’, so it makes me happy to know that we might be able to change the values of our society,” remarked Higuchi. Currently, preparations are underway for the third event, which will focus on France, to be held in June. Children who participate in all seven BohNo Cafe workshops will essentially be able to “travel around the world.”
I want to create a wealth of opportunities for children
"I saw things with my own eyes that changed my values, and I believe the feelings that arose at that time will continue to be a driving force for me well in the future. I hope that by learning about different worlds, children will be inspired to take action and use what they have learned in their future education and careers,” said Higuchi with a kind smile. Higuchi’s main goal is to eliminate the inequality of opportunity. She closed the interview by saying, "I learned that there are children in the world who cannot receive a satisfactory education because they have to work and help their families. I want to create as many opportunities as possible for these children without ever forgetting the fact that they are not provided opportunities just because of where they were born or where they live.” We look forward to seeing what this passionate young woman will do next.
Haruka Higuchi, 4th year, College of Social Sciences
Graduated from Ritsumeikan Junior and Senior High School (Kyoto Prefecture). After launching BohNo, she visited a children's cafeteria in Osaka Prefecture and a farmer in Shiga Prefecture with other group members to learn more about educational support and food loss in Japan. She has been playing the piano since she was a child and took second place at the Chopin International Piano Competition in Asia when she was a second-year student. She enjoys traveling abroad and has been to Finland, Taiwan, Singapore, and Australia. At BohNo Cafe, she also runs a food loss store that sells non-standard fruits and vegetables and produce that was slated to be discarded due to the pandemic.